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Local Schools Find International Business Growing

A master’s degree in business administration appears to be one of the hottest academic tickets in town. Nearly every school on the San Fernando Valley Business Journal’s 2012 list of Largest College and University Business Programs reported an increase in both applicants and graduates. School officials say today’s students also are increasingly diverse, ranging from applicants just out of four-year colleges to international students to mid-career returning students. Notably, admissions officers are now more likely to see students who want to pursue enrollment in a masters program immediately after completing their undergraduate degree. “I’m not sure if that’s associated with the recession, with it being difficult to get jobs, but we’ve been seeing that for the last few years now,” said Veronica Guerrero, director of the MBA program at California Lutheran University. Actual enrollment numbers vary widely, from more than 4,000 full- and part-time students at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management – again the largest program on the list as ranked by graduates – to just 25 full- and part-time students at National University. Officials from schools on both ends of the spectrum are crediting a more flexible approach to business education as a key reason for the increase in interest. Schools are now offering combinations of traditional classes and online courses for busy professionals, as well as programs with timeframes specifically designed for international students. For example, at Cal Lutheran, 529 students applied in 2011. For the fall 2012 semester, that number was up to 703. Guerrero believes the Thousand Oaks school is benefiting from adding several different tracks within its program. Particularly popular is a fast-track program that allows students to complete their degree in one year. Satinder Dhiman, associate dean of Woodbury University in Burbank, believes private universities also are seeing more interest from students as the few area public schools offering MBAs face sharp budget cuts. “If you look at the Cal States and UCs, they are tightening their budgets, and word is getting out about other programs,” she said. That’s an explanation not entirely disputed by Deborah Cours, director of California State University, Northridge’s graduate programs in business and economics. The school was one of the few to see a slight dip in applications. However, she stressed that the school’s part-time-only MBA program is deliberately small, which helps maintain its quality. Dhiman noted that Woodbury saw a decline in admissions when it tightened up requirements in the past, but that’s the price schools pay to be more selective. “We would like to believe the quality is getting better,” he said. “Basically we had a dip when we added the (Graduate Management Admissions Test) requirement, but now students understand that it is required and we’re picking up again.” International appeal Some local MBA programs are becoming increasingly popular with international students. School officials say while the number of applicants and graduates has increased across the board, the biggest growth has come from overseas. Woodbury, for example, has seen an influx in students from Saudi Arabia in the school’s undergraduate program. Similarly, Cal Lutheran has seen an uptick in recent years. “We have people dedicated to recruiting internationally,” said Guerrero. “But also, word of mouth really helps with that.” Cal Lutheran has sought to optimize its attractiveness to foreign students by marketing its full-time MBA for international students. Although students can take up to two years to complete the program, it is designed for completion in one year through an accelerated course of study. The increased interest mirrors the national trend of an increasing number of foreign students choosing to study at American universities. The number of international graduate students has risen every year since 2006, according to the nonprofit Institute of International Education. Still, the vast majority of students in local MBA programs are working professionals. At Woodbury, many students are 27 to 35 years old. “The base still seems to be working professionals,” said Guerrero. “We’ve definitely started to see a trend and increase in our online program.” For some schools, working professionals are the rule. At Cal State Northridge, the only option is a part-time program, and students must be mid-career professionals in order to be considered, despite increased interest from younger students. “We have recently seen more applications from students who just graduated from their undergraduate programs,” said Cours. “But we continue to insist upon one to two years of professional post-bachelor’s experience.” Download the 2012 VALLEY’S LARGEST COLLEGE and UNIVERSITY BUSINESS PROGRAMS list (pdf)

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